In 1864, a chance meeting with Édouard Manet led Degas to encounter the Impressionist group including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley. He soon moved away from historical scenes to concentrate on the contemporary, turn to more modern techniques and subject matter. He exhibited in seven out of the eight Impressionist exhibitions. In his paintings he began to favor certain subjects such as racing scenes, café scenes, ballet, theatre and the circus.
Returning to Paris near the end of 1873, Degas, along with Monet, Sisley and several other painters, formed the ‘Société Anonyme des Artistes’ (Society of Independent Artists), a group committed to putting on exhibitions free of the Salon's control. Over the course of the next 12 years, the group staged eight such Impressionist exhibitions, and Degas exhibited at all of them. His most famous paintings during these years were "The Dancing Class" (1871), "The Dance Class" (1874), "Woman Ironing" (1873) and "Dancers Practicing at the Bar" (1877).
Degas lived well into the 20th century, and though he painted less during these years, he promoted his work tirelessly and became an avid art collector. In the mid-1890s, an episode known as the "Dreyfus Affair" sharply divided French society with those whose anti-Semitism blinded them to Dreyfus's innocence. His stance against Dreyfus cost him many friends and much respect within the typically more tolerant avant-garde art circles.
He never married, though he did count several women, including American painter Mary Cassatt, among his intimate friends. Edgar Degas died in Paris on September 27, 1917, at the age of 83.
Edgar Degas was a master draughtsman, both academic and instinctive. His academic training encouraged a strong classical tendency in his art, which conflicted with the approach of the Impressionists. While he valued line as a means to describe contours and to lend solid compositional structure to a picture, they favored color, and more concentration on surface texture. As well, he preferred to work from sketches and memory in the traditional academic manner, while they were more interested in painting outdoors.
Edgar Degas was intrigued by the human figure, and in his many images of women - dancers, singers, and laundresses - he strove to capture the body in unusual positions. While critics of Impressionists focused their attacks on their formal innovations, it was Degas's lower-class subjects that brought him the most disapproval.
His most important art is the painting ‘Foyer de la Danse’ (1872), presenting us one of the unconventional perspectives that is so typical and distinctive in his work. Rather than evoke the light and atmosphere of the scene, as some of his Impressionist peers might have done, Degas has chosen to create a striking arrangement of space, one which echoes the experiences his contemporaries might have had throughout the new modern city.
"A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people."